Travel Tuesday – Iceland

Iceland often conjures up images of snow, ice and chilly conditions best suited to a winter getaway; however Iceland is a wonderful place to visit in the summer. Not only are flights slightly cheaper at this time of year; the weather is much less harsh and although you may still need a warm coat, you can use the opportunity to explore more of what Iceland has to offer.

Iceland

The natural volcanic landscape offers hot springs, thermal caves and scenic terrain ideal for clearing your head and relaxing, and there are tons to choose from, from free public springs to more upmarket spa days. A good in-between option is The Blue Lagoon, formed in 1976 when people started bathing in the lagoon near Svartsengi power plant and noticed the positive effects it had on the skin. The spa features a man-made waterfall to aid stiff shoulder muscles, saunas and steam baths, white silica mud masks, massages, as well as a restaurant and a design award-winning hotel. There are also places like geothermal Myvatn Nature Baths, which is a little less luxurious but still beautiful and modestly priced, or the hidden pool of Seljavallalaug, which was built in 1923 and is free to use, if you can find it at the base of a valley near Seljavellir.

The Hidden pool of Seljavallalaug

More adventurous than being pampered in the open-air surrounded by spectacular views is exploring the gap between the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates in Thingvellir. Known as the Silfra fissure, it is considered one of the top dive sites in the world, and the cold, volcanically filtered water means the underwater visibility is over 100 metres, so you can witness every detail of the experience in crystal clear clarity. There is plenty to do in Thingvellir National Park too, as one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, such as horseriding, hiking and camping. Thingvellir is within the Golden Circle, which is a popular tourist route in Iceland, from Reykjavik to central Iceland and back, covering 190 miles. Other natural wonders you can find in the Golden Circle include seeing the Gullfoss waterfall in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland; Geysir, a geyser than has been active for approximately 10,000 years, and Strokkur, another geyser that erupts once every 8-10 minutes, erupting up to 40 metres high at times.Silfra Fissure

Strokkur before eruption
Strokkur before eruption
Giyser during eruption
Giyser during eruption

One of the biggest attractions for tourists visiting Iceland is the chance to witness the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, however because they are a natural phenomenon, they are elusive, and some who hunt for the lights don’t even get to see them on their trip. There are three important factors to take into account; darkness, clarity and time. The best time to see the lights, supposedly, is between September and April, meaning summer is not ideal, however there is still a good chance of them making an appearance as long it is a clear night and you are willing to spend time searching for them, meaning it is recommended to stay in the country for at least one week to see the northern lights. There are many ways to seek the lights out, and various tour companies offer different ways to view them, including boat trips and Aurora Bubble hotels, which are inflatable, transparent tents so you can watch the stars, and hopefully the Aurora Borealis, as you fall asleep. Whale, dolphin and puffin watching trips can also be combined with seeing the Northern Lights, but we recommend separate trips for the two, so you can be fully immersed in each incredible experience.

Northern Lights

The capital itself, Reykjavik, is unique place in itself, proving that Iceland isn’t all natural wonders and strange landscapes; it is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world, and its striking, colourful architecture is frankly reminiscent of Balamory (so maybe the landscapes are still a little odd in the city, too). Nightlife in Reykjavik is a big industry, with bars and clubs opening late to accommodate for the Icelandic night owls that come out after dark, and because Reykjavik is such a small city, bar-hopping is an easy sport. The history of hunting, fishing and foraging that sustained Iceland is reflected in the local cuisine, which includes things like lamb, puffin, skyr (similar to natural yoghurt), fish and potatoes. The best place to get your hands on all of these in Reykjavik, as well as some more unusual Icelandic delicacies such as kæstur hákarl (fermented shark),  svið (boiled sheep’s head), and selshreifar (seal’s flippers cured in lactic acid), is at Kolaportid Flea Market – if you think you can handle it!

Kæstur hákarl (fermented shark)
Kæstur hákarl (fermented shark)
Svið (boiled sheep’s head)
Svið (boiled sheep’s head)

Will you be making the most of the 24 hour sunlight in Iceland this summer and getting to know this curious country?